Tip of the Week

A Tip of the Week will go up every Monday by noon.

Coaches - submit your own Tips for publication!

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(Want more tips? Here are 171 more, done for the USATT website from 1999-2003, by Larry Hodges as "Dr. Ping Pong." Want even more? Here's the complete USATT archive, with the 171 by Larry as well as ones by Carl Danner from 2003-2007.)

January 21, 2019 - The Grinding Mentality - How to Play It and Against It

Monday, January 21, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

The Grinder is a style of play, or really a mentality, where your single-minded focus is on not making any mistakes or iving the opponent any easy shots. This often means trying to stretch out rallies as long as possible, since the Grinder isn't making many mistakes or giving the opponent many chances to end the point. It's a defense-oriented way of playing, usually by choppers and blockers, the latter sometimes blocking with long pips on one side. It basically means you grind out each point. It doesn't mean the Grinder doesn't attack, but when he does, it's usually either to throw off the opponent's timing or to end the point off a weak ball.

Mentally, the goal here is to "break" the opponent, who becomes so impatient at finding a good shot to end the point that he starts trying low-percentage shots, and so makes mistakes and loses. Often he falls into the trap of thinking, "Jeez, he won't miss, so I better attack harder to force him to miss." This rarely works.

If you play a defensive style, you should develop the grinder mentality, where you simply refuse to miss or give the opponent anything easy to attack. If the rallies go long, you are happy, as you know the pressure is on the opponent to find a way out of these long rallies, and if he can't, you win.

But how does one play the Grinder? It's all about finding the right mixture of patience and decisiveness. First, find the weakest part of the Grinder's defense. Find out what serves, receives, and rallying shots give the Grinder the most trouble. Since they are focused on keeping the ball in play, they often are passive against deep serves, so perhaps serve long, spinny serves that give you lots of time to follow up. For receive, mostly play safe as there's no point in making an error attacking a serve when you can just push it back and look for an easier attack.

In rallies, usually the weakest spot for the Grinder is the middle, roughly the playing elbow, midway between forehand and backhand, though for many Grinders, the middle is slightly to the forehand side. By attacking the middle, you often force a weaker, erratic return as the Grinder has to decide whether to use forehand or backhand, you take away the extreme angles, and you force the Grinder out of position, often opening up a corner to attack.

But the single most important thing about playing the Grinder is being both patient and decisive. Keep picking away at him with serves and rally shots, looking for balls you can easily attack. Don't force it; if the shot's not there, don't take it. This doesn't mean you don't attack unless you get an easy ball, but that you should only attack consistently until you get the right one to end the point. Instead of trying to loop hard against the Grinder's often very good push, slow loop it, and look to see if you can end the point on the next shot. If you can't, continue playing consistent until you do get the right shot.

While you probably don't want to try beating the Grinder in a pure consistency battle - that's his strength - you also don't want to feel like you have to go for low percentage attacks. Take your time, play the percentage shots as you pick away at the Grinder's defense, and then - when you get the shot you've been working for - WHAM!!! End the point. 

January 14, 2019 - If You Can't Do It Without a Ball, How Can You Do It With the Ball?

Monday, January 14, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

Shadow-practice is when you practice a stroke without the ball. It's the best way to develop proper technique and streamline your strokes, especially with help from a coach or experienced player. You do need to combine it with practice at the table, with a ball, so that you can develop the stroke with proper timing and racket angle. But trying to do all of this at once is difficult, and shadow-practice allows you to zero in on just getting the technique right.

So . . . when should you shadow-practice?

Suppose one of your strokes doesn't feel right. Do you think you have a better chance of getting it right by practicing it while also trying to hit a moving ball, or by shadow-practicing it until you make a habit of doing it right, and then doing it with a moving ball?

Suppose you miss a shot because you didn't do a stroke properly. Do you think you have a better chance of getting the stroke right the next time, perhaps in the next rally, by not practicing it until then, or by immediately shadow-practicing the stroke as it should have been done?

Suppose you miss a shot because you misread the incoming ball's spin, speed, depth, or height. Do you think you have a better chance of getting it right the next time by doing nothing, or by immediately shadow-practicing the shot as you should have done it, so your subconscious can better connect what to do with any given shot?

Do you think you have a better chance of improving your strokes by only practicing them when also hitting a moving ball, or by regularly shadow-practicing them to develop the proper technique?

If you watch the top players, especially during their developing years, you'll notice that most regularly shadow-practice their shots. When they miss a shot, many will shadow-practice the shot as they should have done it. There's a direct correlation between those who shadow-practice to get their shots right and quickly improve, and those that don't and don't improve nearly as quickly.

So . . . why not make shadow-practice a part of your practice routine?

January 7, 2019 - Top Ten Things to Remember in Doubles

Monday, January 7, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

Most players play doubles as if it were just a version of singles, but that's a mistake. Doubles is actually far more complicated since there are two players on each side, so there are four different playing styles interacting, plus all the movement as players alternate shots. But you don't need to spend years mastering all these complications to play good doubles. Here's a Top Ten list of things to remember in doubles.  

  1. Signal serves. Let your partner know what's coming! Sometimes the receiver signals the serves, since he's the one who has to follow them up. Typically, signal under the table by pointing a finger down for backspin, thumb up for topspin, sideways for sidespin, and make a fist for no-spin. It's normally assumed the serve will be short, but if you are serving long, point a finger at the opponents to signal it.
  2. Serve to set up your partner. Discuss with him what he's most comfortable with.
  3. Normally don't serve long. If you serve long, it's usually easier to attack. At the higher levels, very few serves are long. At the lower levels, it might be effective if the receiver can't loop it or otherwise attack it effectively.
  4. Normally don't serve too wide. This gives the receiver a wide angle into the forehand, which could give your partner a problem. This is a triple problem, as your partner will have to cover the wide angle, he'll be out of position for the next shot, plus you might be in his way.
  5. Serve low. It's amazing how many players think their serves are low until they have to serve to someone who knows where your serve is going, as in doubles, and is receiving with their best shot. In doubles, you really need to serve low!
  6. Receive to set up your partner. Talk to him so as to find out what he is most comfortable with. You should often receive to the left, so the server gets in his partner's way.
  7. Attack deep serves. For this reason, most players receive forehand. But if you have a strong backhand attack, then there's no reason you shouldn't receive with your backhand. Some players set up to receive forehand, so they can attack deep serves, but when they see the serve is going short, will reach in and receive backhand, either pushing or flipping.
  8. Don't move too much sideways. This is the natural reaction of most players to get out of the way of their partner, but it means they are out of position for the next shot. Instead, step backwards just enough to allow your partner move in front of you. As he hits his shot, you start to move into position, and right after he hits his shot, you move into the table and into position. Try to move into position to favor your strongest shot. For example, a righty with a strong forehand wants to stand a little to the left. One special case - if the opponents play the ball wide to the right, it means your partner has to move wide to the right. If you are a righty, this is the perfect opportunity to step back out of your partner's way, move to the left, and then step in, so that you are in perfect position for the next shot.
  9. Place your rally shots. Most often hit the ball back toward the player who hit at you, or to the side away from his partner, so he gets in his partner's way. But beware giving the opponent's an easy angle they can use against your partner.
  10. No squabbling!!! When there's a problem, discuss it as teammates, because you are a TEAM.

December 31, 2018 - The Next Point is the Biggest Point of Your Life

Monday, December 31, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

What's the most important point in table tennis? The next one. It's that simple. And yet players constantly fret over the previous point, the one that's over and never to be replayed. As far as you are concerned the next point is for the gold medal at the Olympics. If it's a practice match where you are working on something, you might ease up tactically so you can work on specific shots or tactics, but other than that, you should go all-out every point.

Jan-Ove Waldner, considered by many to be the greatest player of all time, was once asked what his greatest strength was, and his answer was that it was his ability to always consider the next point the most important point of his life - and play it as such. If you make this a habit, two things happen. First, you always play your best. And second, you get so used to playing "the most important point of your life" that when you do play a big point, you are used to doing so. And guess what? You'll be so used to it you won't even be nervous!

December 10, 2018 - Punish Passivity

Monday, December 10, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

If you play an opponent who plays passively, he's basically daring you to take your best shot. Take the dare! But first - what is your best shot against this player, and how do you get it into play successfully? The problem passive players face is that a good tactical thinker knows what his best shot is against this player, how to get it into play (often with serve and receive), and where it should go. Players like this terrorize passive players. But many players simply haven't thought it through tactically, and so fall victim to these passive players, whose main strength is they let you beat yourself. So rather than beat yourself, think it through, decide what serves, receives, and shots will set up the shots that will beat this player, and beat him instead!

If he can still beat you, then he's just a stronger player. So . . . what should you do? Now it's time for some strategic thinking; figure out what serves, receives, and shots you need to improve so you will have the weapons to tactically beat this player. Then practice them and use them until you are good at them.